08 March, 2013

Anna is not that nice

I work for a woman named Anna who people are always saying is sweet and nice. Her dad gave me permission to blog about her, but he might not have done that if I told him that when another client at her day program kept saying, "Anna's nice, she's a good girl," I said under my breath, "No, not really." I hope no one heard this because it doesn't sound very complimentary of Anna, but I don't think saying she's a good girl is very complimentary either. I can't fully explain why it annoys me when people who don't see her much describe her that way.

Obviously, my reaction isn't because I think Anna is a mean person. She's just fine on the sweetness/niceness scale, but it's not something I would say when describing her. I would say: she's very particular about doing the things she likes and having her favorite things around her. She's kind of dignified and she plays her cards close to the chest, maybe because of her disability or maybe just because it's the dignified way to be. There are a few things that she immediately reacts to, but usually when Anna meets someone or has an experience, she takes a while to process the situation and then shows how she feels later. She likes throwing things and ripping up napkins and paper.

First and foremost I would describe Anna as someone who likes to have her own way, which I think is not a problem because Anna's way is pretty cool and doesn't involve making bombs or setting people on fire. I like that her parents don't treat her as someone who has "behavior problems" just because she has strong preferences and is good at expressing what she wants. There is a lot to commend about a disabled person who is confident in herself--so many people think there's something sinister about a disabled person who really likes some things and really dislikes others. Even writing this, I feel like I have to shy away from triggering some stereotype of a person who will scream and break things because they didn't get to eat their favorite kind of sandwich. It seems like there are only two ideas about disabled people--an overwhelmingly good/sweet idea, and the idea of someone who has preferences, and is therefore totally dangerous or a burden on other people (because people have to accommodate them which is a fate worse than death).

Where's the middle ground for someone who has lots of preferences, but in a way that the people around her thoroughly enjoy? Or who isn't mystically "full of love," but is just as capable of love as everyone else?

I'm not really sure, and maybe I'm the one limiting Anna by scowling inwardly when people say how good she is. But it just seems like a way of describing someone that is fundamentally impersonal and ill-fitting, especially for her.

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